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malcolm gladwell - outliers - buffett - meaningful work


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Here is a Charlie Rose interview with Malcolm Gladwell about his book Outliers.




After I read this book, I saw Warren Buffett success less of a product of innate genius and more of a product of luck.  First Buffett had to be born in a country with a capital market. Second Buffett needed to be born in a country with stability, ie not affected by WWII. Third, like Canadian hockey players born in January, Buffett needed a head start on his value investing colleagues to be nurtured by the best coach in security analysis – Benjamin Graham.


So where did Buffett get this head start? He got it by luck. His father happened to be a stock broker that was still doing business after the crash of 1929. He also needed a family that would support his desire for money. Buffett also got his head start by reading all the business books at the Omaha public library. What if he didn’t live in a city with a big enough library to house business books?  What if he didn’t read The Intelligent Investor and gotten to know Benjamin Graham? What if he got accepted into Harvard Business School? What if he never found out Graham was on the faculty at Columbia or that he couldn’t get accepted because he applied too late? 


In Outliers there is the idea of 10,000 hours; in which 10,000 hours is needed to become an expert in any given field. Think of how many hours of investment and business practice Warren Buffett had before he started Graham’s class. He probably already had close if not all of the 10,000 hours needed before he started the class. It is no wonder Buffett was the only student to get an A+ in Graham’s Security Analysis class.


I am in no way trying to belittle Warren Buffett. He still required the right intelligence, diligence and temperament to be a great investor but luck seemed to play an astronomical role. 


There was also the idea of “meaningful work.” This requires three things; complexity, autonomy, and effort that is clearly rewarded.  I think it is interesting that not many careers but money management have those qualities is truck loads. Then again, I don’t manage money so I am probably wrong about this.


Did anyone think about Buffett’s success in terms of Outliers? What other careers offer the three requirements of meaningful work like money management?


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This was a great interview--I remember watching it at the time!


How I interpreted it was that knowing yourself is required however you define your own success. His example of 10,000 hours and various factors is just to say-- a person took the time to know herself/himself and know their craft .


I think any field where you age like a good wine-- not simply in monetary value but personal value, spiritually, friendships and family. It could be anything--- investing, science, art, gardening, tour guide, consultant (maybe the last one is stretching it). Whether you're an introvert or an extrovert seems to be a big factor but those three requirements (complexity, autonomy, and effort) do cut across.


Certain professions, that at first glace appear to be mindless with little complexity or effort required, could be approached as a spiritual practice. A job without autonomy is tough-- if you job is boring and you have someone constantly looking over your shoulder, that stinks.


I agree with you-- people are constantly underestimating the role luck plays in their lives. An echo of Buffett/Munger and Nassim Talib, I hear in all this, is to create an environment where you can be exposed to "good luck".... proper incentives and corporate culture really support this. Plus a strong ethical focus.


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Buffett has talked about this himself many times - he calls it winning the ovarian lottery.


From Prof. Hirschey's notes on Buffett's talk to MBA students:


"" Ovarian lottery: The students loved Buffett’s “ovarian lottery” allegory. Suppose a genie confronted you with the following opportunity. Take a large barrel filled with 6.5 billion tickets, each representing a single birth outcome. Assume the genie selected 100 tickets at random from the barrel and offered to switch your own birth outcome for the best of those 100 tickets. Only about 50 would be of above average intelligence, fewer still would have supportive parents, or full physical capability. Less than 5% would be born in the United States. Nobody in the room would take that offer. Upshot: We are in the upper 1% by chance alone, and should want to give something back to society.""


So, Buffett agrees with you.




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Buffett quotes winning the Ovarian Lottery as one of the reasons he is giving away most of his net worth for philantropic uses. Good point on being fortunate enough to live in a society where what you love doing provides financial reward and recognition. There are other jobs that impact society just as much (if not more) than being a capital allocator, such as a doctor or teacher, yet none of these occupations are nearly as financially rewarding.


Gladwell pointed out that a good portion of the richest people in history were from the industrial age of American history. Beyond that the list includes others such as Bill Gates, WB, and the Waltons. Clearly the American system works!


I'm inspired when he says that his donation doesn't feel like a sacrifice at all, even though on absolute terms it's a massive contribution, because the money won't affect the way he lives. Whereas a school teacher giving away 10% of her annual salary will have a more constrained financial situation even though she's giving away less money.

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